Avoiding The Trap Of Familiarity

Allow me to share a personal story. I wonder if it might resonate with you?

I’m giving a presentation next week. I carefully planned my story flow, interaction breaks, and content. I went through all my slides, speaking out loud, and was pleased to find that the duration was exactly what I wanted.

I then turned my notes into a handout version, nicely written out in full sentences to be used as a leave-behind reference document.

The last step involved cleaning up a few cosmetic details on the slides, adding some judiciously-chosen animations and slide transitions for a bit of pizzazz.

Being the conscientious sort, I went through another practice recitation. I figured it might be a couple of minutes shorter, since I now knew so clearly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.

Imagine my dismay to find that my speaking time was now well OVER the planned session length! What the hell happened? I hadn’t added any new content!

What happened was that I fell into the trap of familiarity. The extra time I spent writing the handout document and revisiting the slides reminded me of additional anecdotes, tips, examples, and explanations that now slipped into my recitation without me even consciously realizing it. I was so familiar with each topic point that I had more to say than when I first put everything together.

So now I have two choices… Remove some content from the agenda or refine my vocal presentation to get back to my initial state of basic brevity. (The answer is NOT to talk faster. Although this seems to be the preferred solution for many people.)

This trap is an easy one to overlook. It is one of the reasons presentation coaches advise you to rehearse your entire speech out loud numerous times. For an important presentation, four times through your content is not at all unreasonable:

1) Basic flow and timing. Figuring out what you want to say and how you want to say it.

2) Getting comfortable. Smoothing the rough edges and practicing sounding natural, energetic, and confident in your delivery.

3) Rechecking timing. Watching out for the trap of familiarity adding more talking points and extending your duration. Figuring out where to cut back if needed.

4) Muscle memory. Rehearsing your polished speech to cement the included/excluded content and timing.

Yes, this process takes time. But as Henry David Thoreau so eloquently said:

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.


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